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Evergreen Magic: How To Make News When There’s No News

Posted by Media Relations on Monday, April 7th, 2008 - 2 Comments »

Afternoon Sessions 008

“Evergreen Magic: How To Make News When There’s No News”

This session is being introduced as PR for the “little guy”. That’s apropos. After a series of case studies highlighting all the great work Disney was able to do great things (on a shoestring budget, or so we were told), it’s hard not to wonder what a company with lesser brand awareness can do to create ripples.

Sandra Fathi begins by citing a familiar dilemma. Company a buys company b and launches product x gives reporter z’s, unless your company happens to be Microsoft (or, say, Disney). Her advice is to marry the message to the reporters needs. This should seem obvious, but it is vitally important to sell the importance of this to the client.

To the specific advice, Sandra proposes that smaller companies “ride the wave of trends”. Well, yeah. Isn’t that what public relations people do? Easier said than done, though, eh? Sorry, I’ll keep the cynicism in check. So what does she propose?

Her company represents a company called Lo-Jack, a B2C consumer security software program for laptops. Their goal was to get into gift-buyers guide articles for the holiday season. No dice. So they came out with a soft feature pitch entitled “don’t let the Grinch steal your laptop”. Not bad. The story got picked up in 120 publications. I personally remember reading it.

She also proposes hijacking stories, leveraging major national stories as a context in which to place client news. This is a favorite tactic of mine, but it can be easier said than done for small companies without a consumer angle. She also emphasizes the need to practice ethics (there’s that word again… what are we, lawyers?) and to pitch LEGITIMATE story tie-ins.

She notes that the ability to piggyback on news depends partly upon the ability to create facts, figures, illustrations and charts that are relevant to existing news. Often our own clients are a veritable treasure trove of proprietary data, and it’s well worth taking the time to talk about their research. Similarly, a number of human interest stories often exist within a company. Sandra’s company was able to get a client CEO into Vogue magazine.

There is nothing here I can disagree with, but it does take a bit of humility on part of the PR shop. Asking your client for more information means having to confront them with the uncomfortable truth that their product launch isn’t necessarily news. It also means admitting that you can’t get a story placed without their help, which is a tough sell when companies are often paying you to do the thinking for them.

Further, you have to convince your client that it is worth the time and effort to pursue a story that might not make any sense to them. It takes a certain measure of risk to pursue that out-of-the-box story for that off-the-media-list target. But hey, that’s what account managers are for.

Curiously, very little of this has to do with evergreen stories (evergreen referring to a reporter’s proclivity to ignore stories that can be covered at any time. That’s where Joanne Ritter of Guide Dogs for the Blind comes in. She describes her organization as the quintessential evergreen story, though there is quite a bit of built-in empathic interest and brand goodwill. I wish my clients had puppies working for them.

To their credit, the organization does a great job of taking advantage of their many compelling personal stories to generate coverage. The group has done an outstanding job garnering local pieces, 9/11 tie-ins, informational features and the like. It can be easy to rest on the laurels of a feel-good client, and kudos the Guide Dogs for the Blind for pushing the envelope.

I’m not sure this session addressed the core obstacle to my satisfaction, which is that they can be covered at any time (I even asked a question to this effect). Piggybacking news stories is a necessary first step, but some nuts are much tougher to crack (think B2B). If anything, I would say these ladies are doing great work with some relatively exotic clients.

Nonetheless, we saw some smart PR on display, and smart PR tends to win the day, evergreen or no.

2 Responses to “Evergreen Magic: How To Make News When There’s No News”

  1. Sandra Fathi Says:

    Hey! Thanks so much for the review. Most of my clients are B2B and I can assure you that we use the same tactics for them. You have to be creative when it comes to small/mid-size companies and especially in tech. Not everyone gets to launch the iPhone!

  2. Joanne Ritter Says:

    Kevin — Thanks for highlighting our presentation. All I can say is, it’s all in the pitch, and it’s great to be able to pitch a story you feel truly passionate about. And, yes, the puppies sure do help…

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